Making Masters Ends Meet - Prospects Advice

If you want to get another qualification under your belt, youre going to need some money.

In an ideal world, every postgraduate would get some funding from one of the Research Councils or from a Charity or Trust, but realistically, its likely that many students will have to find another source of cash to fund their studies.

Heather Thomas is studying an MA in Online Journalism. Her parents kindly offered to help pay for the course. I would never have been able to cover the cost of the course without the help from my parents, she says.

Unless theyre fortunate enough to have very wealthy parents it is unlikely that many students will receive the full amount they require (ie enough for their tuition fees, course materials and other costs, as well as their living costs) from any single source.

In Heathers case, my parents have covered the cost of my fees, but everything else I have to pay for myself. I have a part-time job for any other costs.

Paul Higgs parents too helped to pay for his Masters, but like Heather, he needed some extra cash to help make ends meet. Despite my parents paying for my fees, I've had to support myself throughout the year, as there are no studentships available for my course, he explains.

All work and more study

Many students will have to use more than one source to help cover the costs of their studies because of the highly competitive nature of postgraduate funding in the UK often with more students each year. Its often repeated that there are now more graduates with first class degrees applying for AHRC funding than there are awards available.

Part-time or temporary jobs are the most obvious source of additional cash. Paul has had several part-time jobs. I have worked in concert security (great money but not reliable), worked evenings in my local Blockbuster (for the worst wage possible), worked as relief staff at my local sports centre (great for free gym membership and the occasional bit of cash), and as a lab technician for the uni (flexible hours and it looks great on my CV).

Striking a balance

Balancing work and study is not easy, but as Paul soon realised, most postgraduates are in the same boat and lecturers generally understand the pressures that postgraduate students are faced with.

I spent several evenings studying through the night to get assignments in on time, but the lecturers are aware of the problems we face, so they are usually reasonable about extensions and deadlines.

More ways to pay

Gary Jones combined a part-time job with a loan to finance his Masters. I funded the course through a Career Development Loan, and worked part-time driving buses to help make ends meet, says Gary.

Loans are an increasingly popular funding choice. The Department for Education and Skills provides Career Development Loans in partnership with four high street banks. Loans are available to people undertaking vocational courses.

The amount you can borrow varies from 300 to 8,000. Careful consideration will be needed of the different banks offerings. If you are thinking of taking an MBA, you may be eligible for the Association of MBAs Loan Scheme, which is financed by NatWest.

If you are considering taking out a loan it is advisable to shop around. You may find some banks willing to give you a graduate loan, which might just offer a lower interest rate than a Career Development Loan, so it is worth checking it out.

Gary has a total student debt of 12,000. It sounds a lot but I know I will be able to pay that back when I am working. Having a Masters has meant that I will earn a higher salary and hopefully reduce the time it will take me to be promoted.

Help from the university

It is worthwhile to approach the university you wish to study at as they may have scholarships or awards in place that you could be eligible for. The University of Liverpool, for example, awards the John Lennon Memorial Scholarship for those interested in studying environmental issues.

As you might expect, scholarships vary considerably from institution to institution. Prizes range from 20 up to 3,000 and are usually awarded for excellence in teaching or research, or for an essay or project.

As well as scholarships, universities also offer graduate teaching and research assistantships.
Under these schemes, postgraduates receive direct payment (usually the equivalent to a Research Council stipend) or a waiver of their fees (or sometimes both) in return for undertaking teaching or research duties.

For Paul Higgs, working as a teaching assistant was the best of the various ways of earning money that he tried.

I help at practicals and go on field trips, (and have ended up teaching people on my own course weird). The money is very good and teaching helps me remember all those little things for when exams come around.

Not only has Paul been able to cover the costs of his study by making himself available to teach lessons, he has been offered a post as a technician in the department in which he studied.

If you are offered a teaching position, it is important you are aware of your rights. You can find more information about graduate teaching and research assistantships in the Prospects Funding Guide, which is available from all university careers services, or can be accessed online at www.prospects.ac.uk/links/fundstudy

Spread the cost

After completing a degree in Social Science with International Studies at Manchester Metropolitan, Lisa Harris decided to take up a part-time postgraduate course in Human Rights.

As I only decided to take the plunge three weeks before the course started, I didn't have time to look into funding. I knew that taking a postgraduate course would cost me a lot of money, which is why I decided to spread the cost over two years and study part-time.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2003/04, most postgraduates (303,435 out of 523,830) study part-time, which means they are able to spread the costs of their course.

Most universities are aware of the difficulties students face when it comes to covering the costs of further study and may offer fee flexibility for students who struggle. The graduate office was quite flexible and allowed me to restructure my payments due to financial difficulties, explains Lisa.

The magnificent seven

That is not to say that there is no funding at all, however. There are several sources from which you can acquire funding and you should visit all options as early as possible.

One such source is the Research Councils. Aside from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), theres the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).

Collectively, the aim of these government-funded organisations is to support the general development of various disciplines to deliver investment for society. This means that some of the 600 million-ish they spend annually goes towards providing general support for research for example, providing training or facilitating knowledge sharing among academics and researchers.

Departments should have a list of their studentships for October on their websites. Prospects.ac.uk provides a gateway to the Research Councils studentship pages as soon as the lists are available.

As far as general requirements go, any students with a first class or 2:1 degree who have been full-time resident (ie not just during term time) in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for three years prior to their application are eligible for a full award if they are enrolling on an approved postgraduate programme. Students from Scotland can apply for one of a small number of studentships that can be taken at approved institutions anywhere in the UK. Students from outside the UK but within the EEA can apply for an award that covers tuition fees, but won't be able to receive a maintenance grant.

With the exception of AHRC and ESRC schemes, you should not apply directly to the Research Councils. Typically Research Councils allocate funding to individual departments and institutions, and you should apply directly to the department in which you want to study. The department then selects the best candidates.

Get as much information as you can and make sure that you know the ins and outs of the eligibility criteria. Again, don't make the mistake of thinking that because everyone is applying for Research Council studentships, you shouldn't bother. If everyone thought that, 10,000 or so awards would remain unclaimed every year.

Competition for Research Council funding is fierce but if you meet the eligibility criteria you have as good a chance as anybody else of getting some.

Research Councils:

Career Development Loans

You can get more information by calling the CDL helpline on 0800 585505 between 8am and 10pm, Monday to Friday. Banks also have other loan packages.

For more information, or to obtain an application pack, call their free information line on 0800 200 400.

Prospects Funding Guide

Pick up a free copy of the Prospects Postgraduate Funding Guide from your nearest Careers Service, or alternatively, visit Funding my further study at www.prospects.ac.uk/links/fundstudy